Nepal is totally different than any country we've seen so far. Nepal used to be 22 kingdoms and there is strong evidence of influence from the various surrounding countries such as Indian Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism, Mongolian architecture, and centuries of Muslim monarchy.
Our first stop was Kathmandu. Here we decided to take a week off and leisurely wander the streets in and around the city. Kathmandu isn't exactly the most relaxing city... but in our case, we found a hotel in Thamel (Pariwar B&B) with great rooms and a quiet atmosphere that isolates us from the activity and chaos in the touristy area of Thamel. One interesting fact here is that they have daily "load shedding" - the electricity infrastructure doesn't meet the city's needs so the government rotates which districts have electricity and when. Turns out that if you're watching an interesting movie on TV, you have to be careful as you might end up missing the end of it when the power goes out! ;)
One of the first places we visited was the old town and surrounding streets… we did a lot of people watching there. By fluke, we happened to visit the Durbar Square (Palace Square) on the only day in the year when it's free ("Tourist Day"). Since we managed to save $15 USD on the entrance fee, we decided to hire a guide to get explanations about Hinduism, and the history/architecture of Durbar Square… It was a rather complicated explanation so.. let's just say we're a bit confused with all of it :).
We also passed a lot of time in Thamel (the tourist district) where there's a huge variety of restaurants and hotels. The few streets that make up Thamel are flooded with anything that a trekking tourist might want/need at really cheap prices! For example, you can get a puffy knock-off North Face down jacket for about $35USD. For fun, we asked a couple of places if the jackets are real.. the typical answer is something like "Well.. they're not exactly real, but.. they're not really fake either…" :). At least they're honest I guess! :).
The food here is amazing (especially after China!!). We are feasting like kings on Butter Chicken, Curries, Masala Tea (Chai Tea) with our food bills totalling anywhere between $2.50 and $9 USD!. Some of the restaurants we've tried and recommend so far are: Third Eye (Good Indian Restaurant), Himali Kitchen (Cheap Curry Dish), Cozy Cafe & Restaurant (Great food and Chai, with a personal touch..).
At the Cozy Cafe, the Chef, Giri, comes out to introduce himself to each customer. The food was so good and Giri was so friendly that Jen asked if he offered cooking classes.. and what do you know…. he did!! We booked a private cooking classes from a real chef! And it was so much fun we decided to book another class when Guillaume arrived in Kathmandu. We learned to make everything from scratch, including: Steamed Chicken Momos (Tibetan Dumplings), Vegetable Momos (both the steamed and fried versions), Momo chutney, Chicken Tikka Masala Curry, Paneer Butter Masala, Roti (Indian Whole Wheat Bread), Naan (Indian Bread), Water Buffalo Tenderloin with Fries and Steamed Veggies… This was a really basic kitchen - during the electricity load shedding, Giri cooks by candle light. All in all, the cooking classes were one of our biggest highlights! :)
We also managed to meet up with Jessica and Kyle (and the Brunner family) for a day and a half. They'll be doing the Everest Base Camp Trek at the same time that we're doing the Annapurna Circuit Trek. For the short time that we were with them we did a bit of book shopping for the treks and visited Boudhanath, the biggest Tibetan stupa in Nepal (with the fiercest stare) ;)